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Field Notes: a Northwest nature blog

One of the reasons many of us live in the Pacific Northwest is the natural wonders that amaze us all. On this blog Seattle Times writers and photographers will share their explorations of the natural world from snowcaps to whitecaps. Write us at with your own sightings, questions and wonders to share.

January 26, 2012 at 7:00 AM

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Constance: the perfect name for Montlake Fill's Connie Sidles

You'll see her there in any weather, in her trademark blue hat, likely as not perched on her folding camp seat, binoculars up. "Look, there's a redhead duck," she said softly as I walked past on a recently blustery January morning. Once again, Connie Sidles had enriched a visitor's experience of this special place. Constance is the right name for her, a day in and day out presence at the Montlake Fill, one of the most prized birding venues in Seattle.

If you haven't sampled her blog, do. It's a diary of the fill, a special place, full of special birds, observed by Sidles with loving attention. Outstanding photographs contributed by wildlife photographers and nature lovers are a treat as well.

Right in the heart of the city, the fill, also called the Union Bay Natural Area, offers a chance to enjoy birds in every season, from swooping swallows in the spring to hummingbirds, to flotillas of ducks. On my recent walk through, goldeneye and teal floated serenely in the ponds and that redhead duck was quite the show.

Sidles is the bard of this place, writing not one, but now a second book about her observations there. Beautifully illustrated with photographs, the book offers a look into one woman's long-running relationship with one place, over many seasons.


A Cedar waxwing graces the cover of Connie Sidles' new book, Second Nature. Photo by Tim Kuhn

The fill is just that: a former landfill, enjoying a second life as a wildlife preserve, under a restoration program that has brought flocks of species to this urban place.


Killdeer chicks grace the shoreline at the Montlake Fill. Photo by Doug Parrott

On of the features that makes the fill so successful is its wide variety of habitats, from open grasslands to ponds and the shoreline of Union Bay. Cottonwoods tower over some areas, and thickets of brush and snags offer homes for birds large and small.


A bald eagle lords over the Montlake Fill. Tim Kuhn, photo

To me, one of the loveliest finds at the fill is the hummingbirds that click so resolutely in the branches just over the trail, surveying their domain with the confidence of a Roman emperor and robed just as splendidly.


A male Anna's hummingbird bejewels a branch at the Montlake Fill. Photo by Kathrine Lloyd.

The shorebirds are just as splendid, and enliven even the dullest gray winter day. The fill is a place for superb winter birding, and so close by it's the perfect emergency antidote for cabin fever.

For more on the pleasures of winter birding in the city, see my story in the Seattle Times, with beautiful photographs by Times photographer Alan Berner.


Wilson's phalaropes at the Union Bay National Area, also known as the Montlake Fill. Doug Parrott, photo.

Sidles has several book readings coming up at local venues:

March 8, 2012: Seward Park Audubon Center, 6:30-7:00 p.m. reception; 7:00-8:30 p.m. book reading, discussion, and book signing; 5902 Lake Washington Blvd. S., Seattle, WA 98118

March 19, 2012: Rainier Audubon: 6:30 p.m., Federal Way United Methodist Church, 29645 51st Avenue S., Auburn, WA 98001

March 25, 2012: Eagle Harbor Book Co., 3:00 p.m., 157 Winslow Way East, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

April 2, 2012: Washington Ornithological Society, 7:00 p.m., Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 NE 41st Street, Seattle, WA 98105

April 10, 2012: Skagit Audubon Society, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Padilla Bay Interpretive Center, 10441 Bayview-Edison Road, Mount Vernon, WA 98273-9668

April 19, 2012: Admiralty Audubon: 7 p.m., Port Townsend Community Center, corner of Lawrence & Tyler St., Port Townsend, WA 98368

For more on her books, take a look at the website for Constancy Press.

From the look of rapt attention on her face when I encountered her bird watching Monday, I wouldn't be surprised if she has a third book in the making.

"I wish I could live here," she said.

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